Tips for Using SMART Goals in Nursing

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Written by Ann Real, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A male sets SMART goals in nursing.

Have you ever set a goal in your life and found yourself unable to achieve it? We’ve all been there. Setting goals is easy; achieving them is hard. This issue becomes of utmost importance in nursing — a career where your goals must be fulfilled, or lives are in danger. Luckily, there is a science to achieving nursing goals, called SMART goals. Nursing won’t be the same once you learn to apply this strategy.

In this article, we’ll tell you what SMART goals are, how to set them, and why it’s worth the hassle. Lastly, we’ll finish up by providing you with nursing SMART goals examples for an extra dose of inspiration.

What Are SMART Goals in Nursing?

Think of SMART goals in nursing as a structured pathway to achieving your goals, bringing clarity and direction into your journey.

SMART is an acronym, which stands for:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Timely

What Are the 5 Parts of SMART Goals in Nursing?

1. S Specific

The biggest enemy of goal-setting is vagueness — it’s like a dense fog that obscures you from accomplishing your goals. Instead of setting vague goals, such as “become a nurse,” make it specific: “get accepted to the nursing program at the University of Florida in August of this year.” See the difference?

2. M Measurable

In nursing, measurement is crucial. Just like with a diabetic patient’s blood sugar, specifying the level is key for effective care. The same principle applies to goal setting — make it measurable. Instead of a vague goal about preparing for NCLEX, resolve to dedicate two hours daily to studying for NCLEX. This way, you can measure your progress. Did you indeed spend two hours studying, or not quite?

3. A Attainable

A common mistake is setting unattainable goals. Many of us have been there in nursing school, procrastinating on assignments, thinking, “I’ll prepare for this test overnight.” But it rarely works. Success comes from small, daily efforts adding up to a breakthrough later on. Avoid setting overly challenging goals; self-discipline is like a muscle — it grows as you train it. Start with a smaller goal, achieve it, and then, as you build up your self-discipline skills, aim higher.

4. R Relevant

Make sure your goals match up with your long-term life and career plans. Some things might feel good in the short term but turn into long-term headaches. On the flip side, tackling uncomfortable short-term challenges, like diving into an RN or BSN program, can set you up for long-term success. Your energy is a valuable resource, so point it toward goals that really matter, and skip wasting it on things that won’t help your career and professional vision.

5. T Timely

Set a time frame for your goal to boost your chances of follow-through. Daily work is key to achieving any goal, but the effort required depends on your deadline. When do you want to accomplish your goal? Instead of a vague goal to pass medications, specify “pass medications to all six patients by 12 p.m.” to ensure you start preparing at 11 a.m.

SMART Goals Nursing: Why Set Them?

Sadly, the statistics of goal setting are not very promising. Only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, leaving the rest of us — an astonishing 92% — stuck in certain areas of our lives. Wondering why? Because most people don’t do it the SMART way. They set vague, unrealistic goals that can’t be measured — and then call it quits within a few weeks.

The benefits of SMART goals for nurses:

  • Improve focus: SMART goals provide clear and specific targets, helping you to stay focused on what needs to be achieved.
  • Increase motivation: Achieving smaller, measurable goals along the way boosts motivation, providing a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to tackle bigger goals later.
  • Improve planning: SMART goals require thoughtful planning, helping you to break down larger tasks into manageable steps, making the overall process more organized and achievable.
  • Enhance problem-solving: It’s easier to identify issues and find solutions when the goals are well-defined.
  • Boost professional development: SMART goals help you customize your objectives for professional growth, making sure you’re staying on track on your journey of skill improvement.
  • Effective communication: SMART goals provide a clear framework for communication within a healthcare team, fostering collaboration.

SMART Goals: Nursing Examples

SMART Goals for Professional Development

  • Not SMART: Become a nurse practitioner sometime in the future.
  • SMART: I aim to become a certified Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) over the next three years. I’ll enroll in and complete a master’s in nursing program at Colorado University, focusing on family practice. I’ll dedicate at least 10 hours per week to studies while working part-time for financial stability. This aligns with my passion for family care, allowing me to take on more responsibilities. My goal is to finish the MSN program and obtain FNP certification by the fall semester in three years.

SMART Goals for Nursing Students in Clinical

  • Not SMART: I want to become an IV pro.
  • SMART: I aim to enhance my clinical skills in administering IV medications over the next six weeks. I’ll practice under my clinical instructor’s supervision in at least 15 patient interactions. This goal aligns with my aspiration to become a well-rounded nurse. By the end of the current clinical rotation, I aim to be proficient in administering IVs and will assess progress through check-ins with my instructor.

SMART Goals for Patient Safety

  • Not SMART: I want to keep my patients safe.
  • SMART: I aim to boost patient safety by reducing medication errors in the surgical unit over the next three months. My goal is to cut errors by 20%, tracked through incident reports and health records. Collaborating with the entire healthcare team, I’ll identify causes, implement double-check procedures, and conduct training sessions. This aligns with our commitment to high-quality care. By the end of three months, I’ll assess the impact of these changes and ensure ongoing monitoring for sustained improvement.

Start Your Nursing Career SMART With IntelyCare

Now that you’ve learned about setting SMART goals in nursing, you are ready to take the next step in your career. IntelyCare can help you discover the best-fitting nursing opportunities. The job you are seeking is also seeking you. Sign up today and discover your job match.